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Stratford’s lone major league player tried to settle down hours before his Montreal debut 45 years ago.

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Larry Landreth knew he was starting out against the Chicago Cubs, and the Expos rookie pitcher thought it would be eventful, especially without the added stress on the nerves.

His right arm wouldn’t loosen as he warmed up on a chilly September 16, 1976 evening at Jarry Park, so the team’s coach applied atomic balm.

“I threw and thought my arm was on fire,” Landreth said with a laugh. “It got into the pores.”

Landreth hit the first hitter he faced – Jerry Tabb, the Cubs first baseman and someone Landreth retired every time they met in the minors. The 21-year-old right-hander subsequently calmed down, earning his first MLB victory after six clean innings.

Landreth, throwing to Hall of Fame wide receiver Gary Carter, allowed four hits and walked six goals while striking two out in front of 2,877 fans. He had pitched 155 innings with the Expos triple A affiliate in Denver before his call-up and needed to throw the winter ball, so he just wanted to end the season strong and make a good impression.

“You’re kind of exhausted by this point,” Landreth said. “It’s a long year, and you’re tired. Basically you want to do what you can.

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Landreth made the decision early in his life to pitch, just like his older brother Doug, so he learned on his own. His first opportunity to face live hitters came to Tyke, and he pitched throughout his minor ball years, working with Dinny Flanagan, Barry Jessop and Tom Gamboa.

“I realized I have a decent arm, so why not give it a whirl?” ” he said. “Just the throwing craft, especially once you get up higher, you go out, in, up and in, and it was fun getting someone ready and making them sound like fools. “

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Landreth mostly relied on a fastball and a slider, mixing up a curveball for show and weird change that had similarities to screw balls. It wasn’t until he became a midget / junior that he started thinking about being a great player and the Boy Scouts started paying attention.

“I felt if they looked at me maybe I had a chance,” he said.

Philadelphia called Landreth before a game and let him know they wanted to see him pitch for the Stratford Juniors at National Stadium. He was happy to help, but he had one request: not to wear a Phillies blazer at the stadium.

“I’m going to the mound, and two of them are standing there with the blazers,” he said. “It’s pretty (stressful) like that, and they’ve got the blazer and the (Phillies logo) on it.”

The Canadiens weren’t included in the MLB draft at the time, so the players had to sign as free agents. Landreth and Stratford junior wide receiver Mike Teahan, a native of St. Marys, attended a camp in Montreal, which boosted Expos interest.

“Growing up everyone envisions being an NHL player or (some other professional athlete), and that’s a dream,” Landreth said. “If you can finish it, that’s a bonus.”

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Landreth made his professional debut at the age of 18 in 1973, launching for the Expos’ weak affiliate A in Jamestown, NY He didn’t know it then, but signing with Canada’s only MLB team at the time. was a career killer. Montreal had a reputation for rushing hopes, unlike Baltimore, who tried to sign Landreth moments after agreeing to join the Expos.

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“As a Canadian, it was good to play for Montreal,” he said. “I have met a lot of people. But, at the same time, they expected you to come right off the bat and (contribute), where other teams kind of take you. It happens to a lot of young pitchers. They want success at this point, and it’s tough.

Landreth quickly rose through the organizational ranks of the Expos. His best season in the minor leagues came in 1974 when he averaged 2.54 in 188 innings for the Montreal A-side in West Palm Beach, Fla. Landreth struck out three times as many batters as he walked and pitched 12 full games. , with three shutouts.

“When I was throwing (the miners)… they just let me work my way,” he said.

Landreth made two more starts for the Expos in 1976 and appeared in four games – with one start – the following season.

He came close to facing his idol, Tom Seaver, at Shea Stadium, but the New York Mets legend was scrapped before his scheduled departure with injury.

While Landreth has had this moment stolen, many others stand out. Like talking to Expos teammates Andre Dawson and Ellis Valentine to figure out what the hitters were thinking in the batting box. Hall of Famer Dawson had the fastest hands Landreth had ever seen.

“They were both good hitters,” he said.

There was a game in Philadelphia when Montreal reliever Woodie Fryman invited Landreth to sit with him and watch Steve Carlton pitch. They studied quadruple Cy Young for a few innings in the dugout before moving on to the reliever box, where Fryman quizzed his young teammate about what he had noticed about the future Hall of Fame.

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“It all looked like a strike, and then it would be in the dirt as the guys were rocking,” Landreth said. “When you had a veteran taking you under his wing … you respected the guy.” “

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Landreth’s career in MLB has been short. He finished 1-4 over two seasons, pitching 20.1 innings. His 6.64 ERA and 2.31 WHIP (walks and hits per set pitched) were largely the result of being rushed into the majors and never feeling comfortable with the franchise, who traded him to the Los Angeles Dodgers in May 1978.

The LA pitching personnel were crowded, and Landreth refused to report to camp. The Dodgers only granted his release when most of the listings were set, and not before he tagged goods damaged to his right arm.

It wasn’t true, Landreth said, but it cost him a possible deal with the Chicago White Sox.

“You are fighting this reputation,” he said. “Any other team that was going to look for you, they are not going to look for you.

“Maybe it would have worked, maybe not. It’s like this is what I did, and no one can take it away from me.

Landreth never returned to the majors. He joined Montreal and started in the minors before ending his professional career with the double-A club Milwaukee in 1979.

No one from Stratford has reached the major leagues since Landreth, who is now 66 years old.

“You have to have the natural talent and then work hard after that,” he said. “It would be nice to see someone. There have been a few guys who have played A ball or double A but it gets harder and harder as it goes.

“It means a lot. You wish your career took a different path. There are things that have happened that I look back on now and wish I had spoken, but I’m proud of myself. Major League Baseball are phenomenal, it’s a revelation when you first get there.

Getting settled is even more difficult.

cosmith@postmedia.com

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